Interview with Mr. Peter Kristensen, Lead Environmental Specialist, and team leader for the West Africa Coastal Areas Program, the World Bank
Question 1: WACA is an ambitious program, both by the magnitude of the challenge, and the investments needed; can you tell us how the program came about within the World Bank, its objectives and the expected results?
That is right, the development challenge is immense when you think of it, and we needed an ambitious program as response. In some areas 20 meters of coast are lost annually, mostly around large infrastructure on the coast, and we know that the effects can stretch 50 kilometer downstream, so in West Africa this means from one country to the next. Managing sediment and the solutions aren’t straight forward.
West Africa’s coast is under stress from rampant development of coastal infrastructure, city expansions, population increase, and in many places, there is an overuse of natural resources. Development of Africa is important and should not be slowed. But we find that coastal degradation put people’s livelihoods are at risk, and in fact, the countries’ economies are also at risk. According to an analysis of the World Bank, the degradation of the coast of Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Togo cost $3.8 billion in 2017, or 5.3% of the four countries’ combined GDP.
The West Africa Coastal Areas (WACA) management program was requested by countries like Benin and Togo at the time of COP21. It was launched in November 2018 to mitigate the consequences of coastal erosion, flooding and pollution caused by human activity, climate change-induced sea-level rise and storm surges.
It builds on the many initiatives that were underway, including those managed by the WAEMU and the CSE. The efforts of establishing the Coastal Observatory was one of the first priorities because without accurate information on the state of the coast, it is difficult to make decisions. Therefore, we are happy that so many partners have now rallied behind the West Africa Coastal Observatory.
The WACA Program’s vision is to create a dynamic space where both coastal countries and partners will work together, share knowledge, expertise, and mobilize finance to build long-term coastal resilience that supports prosperity and sustainability. The Program aims to achieve these goals in the spirit of collaboration and co-creation, and its success is dependent upon the commitment and contributions of all partners. It builds on and empowers existing institutions and commitments countries have established.
Question 2: The WACA program is well underway in West Africa, and the expectations of public authorities and populations for the reduction of coastal risks are high. How do you meet these expectations, and what do you think essential in short and medium term to meet them?
I think that one of the key things to do to meet expectations is to engage in the dialogue. I understand very well that there are many expectations, and we have to admit that we at the World Bank can’t meet them all because they go well beyond the abilities we have. For example, it is countries who make decisions about how to manage their environment. It is cities who make decisions of where people are allowed to build houses. But what we can do is to support the governments and city officials in creating and strengthening the dialogue around the challenges they are up against and mobilize any technical expertise if needed. Solutions may be found for a particular site or city in the short term and the Bank can provide resources to resolve the issue there. However, for all the issues country-wide, there is no other way than for governments to continue their efforts of manage the coastal areas in a sustainable manner, including decisions on what land uses are allowed in different areas, and plan ahead for what is going to come. A longterm commitment is needed to manage the coastal areas. Think of the example of Cote d’Ivoire’s coast where in 1975 there were 1.1m people and in 2014 there were 7.5m. The pressure is relentless. This means that spatial planning in coastal areas must happen and should happen with a view to preserve sustainable livelihoods and space for infrastructure needed for economic growth.
Question 3: Currently the WB provides specific financing for six (06) countries, but Western Africa includes seventeen (17) countries. What are the plans assisting the remaining countries, in particular those engaged with the West African Coastal Observation Mission?
The WACA Program includes two things: the specific resilience investment projects in each country, and a regional scale-up platform to support expansion within countries and to add new countries. I am happy to see that under countries’ leadership there is a scale-up underway, which was facilitated by the WACA Program’s Marketplace. New partners are committing new coastal project with countries, including Spain, France, UN-Habitat, Nordic Development Fund, OFID, and Morocco, among many others.
In terms of new countries, Nigeria and Ghana requested to become part of the WACA Program recently, and the multi-sector planning process is about to start. There are also projects underway in other countries that serve to integrate the preparatory stages for becoming part of the WACA program, and the services offered to access solutions and expertise, or new financing from the may partners which are keen to scale up their support to countries under the WACA umbrella.
Question 4: Looking forward, how do you see the WACA Program provide sustained support to resilience to coastal people and economies?
There are three concepts that I believe countries need to embrace and for which the WACA Program can provide support.
The first relates to sustainable development of the coastal zone and is referred to as the Blue Economy. The term refers to the development of oceanic economic activities in an integrated and sustainable way. It is focused on capturing potential synergies and managing the trade-offs across industries to better address the growing threats now confronting oceans, and particularly those posed by climate change.
The second relates to pollution management, and the terrible habit the world has come to with single use plastics. I understand that single-use plastic is not entirely avoidable, but certainly, a lot of waste could be reduced, and integrity of our ecosystem saved if we prevent the leakage of plastics into the environment. Progress has been made using a circular economy approach whereby we redefine how we use our resources to avoid pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems.
The third is Disaster Risk Management. Disasters hurt the poor and vulnerable the most because they do not have the resources to absorb the social and economic cost they entail. Over the past 15 years, countries have made progress in managing disasters, but clearly, more preventative work needs to happen, contingency plans must be in place to protect vulnerable people and economic assets.
The WACA Program and its partners and mechanisms are keen support countries in these areas. With knowledge and data from the West Africa Coastal Observatory, and the dialogue at national and regional levels engaging decision-makers, I am confident we can mobilize the resources needed to tackle coastal erosion, flooding, and pollution in Western Africa.
Author: Peter Kristensen, Lead Environmental Specialist, and team leader for the West Africa Coastal Areas Program, the World Bank